News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Partnerships key to protecting forest

As Fred Perl moves on from a 32-year career in law enforcement with the National Parks Service and the U.S. Forest Service, he offers a singular takeaway: partnerships are the critical element in protecting and preserving America’s public lands.

Those partnerships are not only between and among agencies tasked with protecting public lands; partnerships with members of the public are equally important.

“It’s incumbent upon the community to take care of public lands,” Perl told The Nugget. “There are warriors and guardians in the community, and they do incredible things.”

It was a love for the outdoors that drew Perl into public-lands stewardship — starting with seasonal work at Crater Lake National Park.

“It was actually a classified ad that my mom found in the newspaper about Crater Lake National Park hiring,” he recalled.

While working in visitor services, he saw rangers patrolling the Park and it set his feet on a particular path.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of a cool job,’” he said.

He entered college at Southern Oregon University with an eye to a career.

“It was through that process that I started studying criminal justice,” he said. “I just took it one step at a time. Eventually I put all the puzzle pieces together.”

The completed puzzle combined his love for the outdoors with another passion: “I’m driven to think like a cop, to work with other cops to protect people and lands,” he said.

Starting with the National Park Service, Perl eventually gained permanent status at Grand Canyon National Park. Then he shifted agencies, to the U.S. Forest Service.

“It was more independent work being an LEO (law enforcement officer) with the Forest Service, a little more investigative work,” he said.

In 2000, Perl accepted an LEO position on the Flathead National Forest in Kalispell, Montana, and then transferred to the Sisters Ranger District in 2003.

He attributes the successes he attained here to the relationships he built with other law enforcement personnel and with the community.

“It really gets down to cooperation,” he said. “It’s really a team effort.”

Perl’s work involved protecting resources and people in an increasingly heavily trafficked forest. He investigated everything from illegal camping and resource damage to wildland fire. The workload has grown heavier and heavier as Sisters has been “discovered.”

“It’s high-use,” he said. “It’s almost become high-use year-round.”

One of the biggest challenges of the job was simply determining where to put his efforts.

“You can’t investigate everything; it just takes so much time,” he said. “So you have to prioritize.”

And on any given day, an incident could change those priorities.

Partnerships and cooperation are key to gaining information and for the safety of an officer who is often working alone in remote areas. Perl always knew that other law enforcement personnel in the area had his back, as he had theirs.

“Somebody will come, because of the relationships,” he said. “That’s extremely important from an officer-safety standpoint.”

In recent years, Perl was increasingly called upon to address illegal camping in the forest around Sisters — often involving homeless people, including families. It was a challenging line to walk, requiring Perl to enforce the law with a high level of compassion and understanding. It was never a simple, straightforward situation to manage, and, again, it required cooperation with local agencies and community members.

“You can only manage it, because people have such limitations,” Perl said. “You can’t just move them out.”

Perl and his community partners sought to find help for those who could and would take it, to make it possible for them to change their situation. And they had some successes. But the problem persists, without any simple solution.

“It’s a growing situation and we’re well-aware of it,” Perl said. “The agency is dealing with it to the best of their ability.”

Perl is easing into retirement with no specific plans other than spending time with family.

“I’m not making any concrete decisions right now,” he said.

It’s a certainty, however, that whatever the future holds, it will involve being out on the public lands Perl has loved and defended for decades.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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